The Brian Cushing Precedent

| May 12th, 2010

Peter King supports the AP’s decision to re-vote on the Defensive ROY Award given to Brian Cushing for his 2009 performance.  (For those who don’t know, Cushing tested positive for the same hCG Manny Ramirez missed fifty games last year for.)  He doesn’t give too many ideological reasons outside of his clear disdain for the use of PEDs in sports and his lack of concern for setting a difficult precedent.  That precedent, says King’s colleague Don Banks, is not worth ignoring:

It may not always be a nice, neat, easy call, and that’s why you don’t toss out the principle of precedent every time you feel the whim. It may not be the case of the moment that requires much foresight, but the case that we don’t yet know about, and is still unimagined, just might.

The truth?  It’s somewhere in the middle.

One must be very clear about what is actually happening here.  The media, the football writers of America, are deciding that a player’s performance on the field is not worth an accolade due to evidence of a performance enhancing drug.  In that regard there is no precedent being set here as the baseball writers have been keeping Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame credentials out of the Hall for a few years now.  This is not a league-given award.  The league is making no comment on the action outside the required four-game suspension.

Where is there a precedent?  The football writers are retroactively making mid-career decision that can significantly hamper a player’s ability to achieve particular incentives in their contracts.  PFT touches on this fact:

Meanwhile, Brandt reports that Cushing’s contract included a trigger based on winning the AP defensive rookie of the year award, resulting in a $2.219 million bonus.  But Cushing met other alternative triggers, which means that he’ll keep the money even if he doesn’t secure the honor based on do-over voting that closes at 12:00 p.m. E.T. on Wednesday.  

That was Cushing.  It won’t be the next guy.  If the writers vote to remove this award from Cushing, you better believe that agents will remove every AP-based performance award from future contract negotiations and subsequently devalue the worth of the prize.  It’s a step I’m glad the AP is willing to take but also a bold gesture that will open the door for other organizations to “boxing up” the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards.  (“Boxing up” is a phrase I just invented to mean the handing out of multiple awards, subsequently devaluing all of them.)  Those are awards are significant sources of pride for players, teams and fans.

And by making this move retroactively, the AP begins dancing to music they’ll soon find it very difficult to maintain in-step with.  What if Cushing is the best defensive player of the year in 2010?  Will the writers assume he is not on the drugs?  If they assume that, can’t they assume he would have been the same player without the drugs in 2009?   

My overwhelming feeling has been to look the other way on the use of performance enhancers in football.  None of us can imagine the wear and tear that the human body experiences over the course of a sixty-minute gridiron battle and if these guys need a couple hormones to be able to wake up on Monday morning, fine.  The stats in football don’t matter, no matter what the fantasy geeks tell you.  And I don’t believe for half-a-second that hCG made Brian Cushing better at rushing the passer or wrapping up Joseph Addai.  Did it make him faster and stronger?  Probably.  But until someone in the sport of football begins to do things that seem impossible, I just can’t hop atop the soap box.

I hope these players know the health implications and aren’t risking long-term medical stability for short-term financial gain.  (Based on the fact that most athletes can’t seem to drive to the grocery store without a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit, I’m doubtful.)  If the league and the Associated Press want to make a serious impact on the lives of these players, how about focusing more attention on protecting the brains of the game’s most prized assets?